Archive for Alternative Energy

H for Hybrid or Hydrogen?

Posted in Car of The Future Project, Car of The Future Project Research with tags , , , , on May 13, 2009 by edwinconan

Since the environmentalists and green hippies have raised the issue of global warming, every single car manufacturers are looking for new and clean way to power cars and reduce green house gas emission, and they basically went to two main directions, Hybrid and Hydrogen. So here is my brief analysis of them.


A hybrid vehicle uses a combination of two or more than two different energy source; they can be any two, for instance, petrol and electric, hydrogen and petrol, etc. But most commonly, hybrid car nowadays refers to hybrid electric vehicles, which is the combination of an internal combustion engine and an electric motor; those vehicles are designed and developed by car manufactures in response to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and global warming issues.

There are two different types of hybrid electric car; the difference is where the electricity comes from. One is normal hybrid, which uses the onboard gasoline engine to generate and charge the batteries. The other is plug-in hybrid, which uses a plug to connect to the electric grid to charge the batteries. However, those hybrid cars also uses regenerative braking technology to capture the kinetic energy produced by braking and convert to electricity. No matter what kind of hybrid it is, a hybrid car usually consumes less fuel and produce less greenhouse gas to cover a certain distance than a normal petrol car of the same size. And as more people are concerning the global warming issues and fuel prices, hybrid cars are in high demand in the recent years.

However, there are a lot of debate and argument about hybrid electric vehicles. First of all is the cost of owning one. Although a hybrid car uses less gas and can save a few dollars in the fuel bill, it is more expensive to buy than the same size non hybrid car in the first place. And then there is service cost, because the life of the batteries in the car does not last as long as the car itself and will become less efficiency throughout the years, the batteries have to be changed once a few years. Secondly is the energy used and the environmental damage caused during the production of the hybrid cars, which is usually the aspect largely ignored by most hybrid car buyers. Take the top seller Toyota Prius for example; the manufacture has literally destroyed the planet in order to make the car eco friendly. The nickel that used to make the batteries to power the electric motor comes from a mine in Canada, and then shipped to Europe to be refined and then sent to China to be turned into foam to send to Japan to be put into the batteries in the car. In fact, it uses more energy to produce a Toyota Prius than a Hummer and in the long term does more environmental damage than a Land Rover Discovery. Apart from that, the real efficiency and economy of a hybrid car has been doubted as well. Because a hybrid car carries two different type of motor and a pack of batteries onboard, it is heavier than a single motor car of the same size, so the question will be is it worth it to carry the extra weight to be able to produce another type of energy to then be used to transport these extra weight around. One extreme example will be in the Formula 1, some of the F1 teams use a KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) in 2009 season which uses heat from the brakes to charge a battery up to a point so the driver can use that extra energy as a boost when overtaking. But the KERS added an extra 50kg to the car which makes the car slower than other cars at the first place. Even on a normal everyday car, some diesel models can manage to use less fuel than hybrid cars in the same distance and driving patterns. More than that, part of the electricity in the battery is produced by the petrol motor, so the so called clean energy is actually from dirty fuel, and quite a few of the energy will be lost when convert to electricity due to the efficiency of the battery and mechanical friction, and more will be lost when using those electricity. This problem seems to be solved when plug-in hybrid was introduced, but let us not forget where the electricity of the electric grid comes from, usually from coal burning, greenhouse gas emission power stations. The economy of a hybrid car also heavily depends on the way it is driven. Due to the different performance of the car, the 1.5L Toyota Prius been driven aggressively uses more fuel than a 4L BMW M3 doing the same maneuver. Last but not least is the styling of the hybrid, the looks of most current hybrid cars are considered as ugly, not sexy and uncool by any normal human beings.


Hydrogen itself is regarded by almost everyone as clean energy, because the only thing produced by burning it is water. There are two way of using hydrogen as power source in cars at the moment, one is directly burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, the other is hydrogen fuel cell.

The hydrogen internal combustion engine is basically the same as a petrol internal combustion engine, only slightly modified to run on hydrogen, and it burns the hydrogen in the same method as petrol. However, for the same engine, when using hydrogen the power output is up by 20% more than using petrol. In theory, any type of existing internal combustion engine, V6, V8, wankel rotary, etc, can be converted to run on hydrogen, which can be a significant saving for automotive industry in retooling, and it can be serviced by the same technician who is used to service traditional cars. Most people knows that the product of burning hydrogen is water, but when combustion hydrogen with air, it also produce oxides of nitrogen just like the petrol engine does, due to there is 78% of nitrogen in the air, and oxides of nitrogen, apart from it is a greenhouse gas, can also cause lung damage and heart disease.

Hydrogen fuel cell combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce water and electricity, the electricity then be used to power electric motors which drives the car. Currently, many car manufacturers are researching and developing hydrogen fuel cell power unit, and there are already many experimental vehicles in operation, however, the cost of producing hydrogen fuel cell is still very high and the power output is low. There are more issues, hydrogen fuel cell is fragile and can not withstand bumps and vibrations. More than that, because it produce water when it is working, and water freezes below 0°C, which means, the fuel cell will not start to work in freezing temperature, in other words, the user can not start his hydrogen fuel cell car to go to work in the morning in winter. Above all that, a hydrogen fuel cell car is much heavier than a hydrogen internal combustion engine car due to the weight of the fuel cell and battery pack carried on board, it will affect the performance of the car and the power used to move the package around may not worth it to have it in the first place.

One common problem for all hydrogen vehicles is, of course, the hydrogen itself. Although the element hydrogen is everywhere in nature, it is always stuck to something, not in its pure form, which means hydrogen has to be produced, not like oil, which can be just dug out and refined. And currently hydrogen is produced by using fossil fuel to separate carbon and hydrogen from methane, the process produces huge amount of greenhouse gas, so big that in the overall cycle, a hydrogen vehicle is more polluting than any modern petrol or diesel cars. A cleaner way will be to electrolyze water, but only when the electricity is coming from renewable energy power plants like windmills, solar panels or at least nuclear, not from burning coal. Since it takes energy to produce hydrogen, why not to use the energy to charge batteries in the first place? Another problem comes after hydrogen is produced, transport and store it. Due to the nature of hydrogen, it can either be stored as liquid in cryogenic tank which keeps the temperature at 252.87°C, or compressed to 5000 psi to 10,000 psi, to achieve any of the methods is hard and dangerous. Even though, it still takes considerably larger amount of space than petrol, in a car or a service station. Then is the hydrogen infrastructure, it takes way to much to build that it will remain largely unavailable to most countries and people.


At the beginning, it was a Mercedes, now, it is still a Mercedes

Posted in Car of The Future Project, Car of The Future Project Research with tags , , , , , , , on May 12, 2009 by edwinconan

Mercedes F-CELL Roadster on the historic route of Bertha Benz – Worldcarfans

Mercedes F-CELL Roadster on the historic route of Bertha Benz

Bertha Benz, wife of automobile inventor Karl Benz, was the first to
take a car on the road for a long distance. With her two kids in tow. Wanting to prove to Karl that his invention was worthwhile, she drove
over a hundred kilometers in the Benz Motorwagen back in 1888, leaving
Mannheim, Germany, early in the morning, and reaching her mother’s
house in Pforzheim that evening.

Mercedes-Benz drove their F-Cell Roadster along that very same route

RMIT Hydrogen Racing Car

Posted in Car of The Future Project, Car of The Future Project Research with tags , , , , , , on May 12, 2009 by edwinconan

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More than 3 weeks ago, I went to RMIT Bundoora East Campus to see the RMIT hydrogen car, Australia’s first hydrogen racing car. It is the result of collaboration of RMIT’s School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and Germany’s Fachhochschule Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences. Professor Aleksandar Subic (head of RMIT School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering) describes it as a demonstration vehicle for the future – a car that is powerful, fast and runs on clean, sustainable fuel. The car uses an internal combustion motorcycle engine modified to run on hydrogen, and the hydrogen comes from in compressed form in a lightweight carbon fiber gas tank on one side of the car. The tank contains the amount of hydrogen that is equivalent to 4 to 5 kg petrol, which is not a lot comparing the size of the tank and the amout of fuel on board. They found it a bit hard to handle the hydrogen, you can either store it under dangerously high pressure or at nearly-impossible-to-reach low temperature. They choose the high pressure because it is the only system their German collaborator can afford and lay their hand on. The chassis is constructed in aluminium tube frames and covered with carbon fiber body panels. In theory, the car can reach 170kmh, making it the fastest hydrogen car of its class in the world.

During the chat with lecturer Geoff Pearson from Automotive Engineering department in RMIT racing team workshop, i found out that in theory, any internal combustion engine can be modified to run on hydrogen, and ideally, it will be more powerful than the same petrol version engine. To burn hydrogen directly in an internal combustion engine is the simplest, easiest way and most light weight system compare to fuel cell or hybrid. And weight is everything, efficincy, economy, performance. The other thing I learned was that from an engineeror point of view, petrol power is still the best all rounder, the only downside is it will run out and it is not clean. When environmentalists and green hippies comes in, they brought alone a whole series of problems and headaches. The only upside of all the alternative energy source is “clean”. Hydrogen is clean but not clean to produce and hard to handle; hybrid, fuel cell and electric systems are too complicated and heavy. Our city, our society and our lifestyle is built around car, we live knowing we can travel from A to B easily on daily base, and that “travel from A to B” will have an environmental effect no matter what form it is, even walking will produce CO2. It is an imperfect world, it all down to what we want and what we need to give up.

Chocolate powered race car

Posted in Car of The Future Project, Car of The Future Project Research with tags , , , , , on April 23, 2009 by edwinconan

Chocolate-powered race car capable of reaching 145mph – [WorldFirst ecoF3] – MotorAuthority – Car news, reviews, spy shots

WorldFirst ecoF3 sustainable race car

As bizarre it may sound a university team in the UK has developed an eco-friendly race car designed to run on chocolate and vegetable oil. The new race car is the ecoF3 from WorldFirst, a small team from Warwick University in the UK, which envisages the car – or at least some of its technologies – one day being used in a FIA-sanctioned motorsport competition.

The ecoF3 has a steering wheel made from carrots, a body made of potatoes and a seat made of soybeans. Vegetable fibres derived from the produce are mixed with resins to form many of the components, while oils sourced from chocolate and other plant-based materials are refined to produce fuel and lubricants.

The WorldFirst team has used a F3 chassis design for its race car, though the car and its engine fails to meet current FIA regulations.

Speaking with the Telegraph, a spokesman from the team said the backers of the project hope “Formula One teams will see that an environmentally friendly car is not necessarily a slow car.” According to WorldFirst’s own results, the ecoF3 is capable of speeds of up to 145mph but no other numbers of independent figures have been released.

Peugeot Competition 2008 Winner’s Full Scale Model: The Peugeot RD

Posted in Car of The Future Project, Car of The Future Project Research with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2009 by edwinconan

Peugeot RD Concept Car Full Scale Model Revealed in Shanghai – Worldcarfans

The Peugeot RD concept design of 27 year old Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar is now on exhibition as a full-size model at the 2009 Auto Shanghai in China. The Colombian has just graduated from the National University of Colombia where he studied Industrial Design.

His concept car was the winning project in Peugeot’s 5th Annual Design Competition which saw prospects from 95 different nationalities submit over 2,500 projects. The theme for the contest was “Imagine the Peugeot of the Worldwide Megalopolis of tomorrow” which in essence asked them to picture the transportation needs of future megacities and design a vehicle to satisfy them.

What sold the RD concept for Peugeot and the selected jury was its high road-holding ability with ease of use in congested traffic, the environmentally friendly electric motor and the 3-wheeler’s driving sensation of a sedan. It also features panoramic all-around visibility and head-up display. Peugeot has been building this show unit since October 2008.

On top of seeing his design come to life in a 1:1 scale, the winner also takes home a cheque for 10,000 euros and an Xbox 360 game console. Twenty nine short-listed entries also received certain prizes.

Now I understand that the whole point of a concept car is to come up with something completely different and strange, not the prettiest, the coolest or the most practical. And the whole point of designing a concept car for a car design competition is to completely ignore the brief and just design something you want. This Peugeot RD Concept proved my point of view perfectly.

The brief for the Peugeot contest was “Imagine the Peugeot of the wouldwide megalopolis of tomorrow”, and the winner is an electric single seater the size of a family saloon with three enormous washing machine drums. I can only imagine the traffic issue of the worldwide megalopolis of tomorrow getting worse if many of us have one of this.

Hydrogen racer wows shoppers

Posted in Car of The Future Project, Car of The Future Project Research with tags , , , , , , , on April 19, 2009 by edwinconan

RMIT – Hydrogen racer wows shoppers

A young fan checks out the racer

RMIT University’s clean and green racing car was the main attraction for shoppers in the eastern suburbs during a special event at Westfield Doncaster.

Australia’s first hydrogen-powered racer was on display during the Easter school holidays, with RMIT students on hand to explain the cutting-edge automotive engineering technology behind it.

Professor Aleksandar Subic, Head of the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, said RMIT students involved in the pioneering Formula Hydrogen project had developed knowledge and skills that would help them become future leaders of the automotive engineering industry.

“This project was about more than theory – the students actually had the chance to research, design, build and test a hydrogen-powered racing car using the latest sustainable automotive technology,” Professor Subic said.

“The work they have done in building this demonstration vehicle for the future will have benefits for all cars and could even lead some day to a completely clean and green Grand Prix.”

RMIT students helped design, engineer and manufacture the car last year as part of their Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) and Bachelor of Engineering (Automotive Engineering) programs.

Powered by an internal combustion motorcycle engine modified to run on hydrogen, the racing car showcases the possibilities of this clean, efficient and renewable alternative fuel.

The car will be bidding for the title of world’s fastest hydrogen-powered racer when it attempts to break the Guinness World Records mark for speed by a vehicle of its class later this year.

The Formula Hydrogen project is a collaboration between RMIT and the Fachhochshule Ingolstadt, University of Applied Sciences, in Germany.

Morgan’s zero-emission Life Car

Posted in Car of The Future Project, Car of The Future Project Research with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2009 by edwinconan